Elevator Accident Tragedies: A Death, An Injury, Criminal Charges, Consequences

Published on December 16, 2011 in News Worthy | No Comments

Two gruesome elevator tragedies are reported in the news articles shown below. They are disturbing and give pause to team readiness activities. Here is a summary of the facts:

A Death

  • December 14, 2011: as a woman is stepping into an elevator, it suddenly shoots upward.
  • The woman is killed — dragged and pinned between the outside of the elevator car and the wall of the elevator shaft.
  • It takes an hour to rescue two other passengers who are trapped in the elevator with her dead body.
  • The building was evacuated and closed; employees were told to work from home for the next two days.
  • Records show 14 open violations involving the building’s elevators.
  • An investigation is underway.

An Injury

  • Christmas Day 2010: a woman takes a single step into an elevator and it instantly shoots skyward, dragging her up eight floors.
  • Her arm and leg are scraped and crushed against the wall of the elevator shaft.
  • Seriously injured, she spends 3 months in the hospital and continues undergoing rehabilitation.

Criminal Charges

  • An investigation of the Christmas Day 2010 incident finds that an elevator repairman wrongly disabled a safety switch.
  • The elevator repairman is charged with assault and reckless endangerment.


  • Untold suffering.
  • Costly, lengthy lawsuits.
  • Interruptions to family life and business operations.
  • Damage to reputations.
  • Investigations.
  • Legislatures and Unions demand more regulation: continuing education and licensing for people who operate/repair elevators.
  • People responsible may lose their jobs, pay fines, be convicted of crimes, and possibly go to jail.

What can be done to ensure that these types of tragedies never happen in your facility?


AP Associated Press logo
Repairman Charged in 2010 NYC Elevator Accident
Associated Press
December 15, 2011
New York Times logo

Elevator Accident Kills Woman in Midtown Building
The New York Times
December 14, 2011

New York Times logo

Elevator Was Serviced Just Before Accident
The New York Times
December 15, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — A woman visiting a hospital last Christmas Day became trapped by a faulty elevator that started moving while its doors were open and was dragged up several floors, crushing her arm and leg against the wall of the elevator shaft, after a repairman wrongly disabled a safety switch, prosecutors said Thursday.

The prosecutors’ announcement came a day after an advertising executive stepping into an elevator at her office building was dragged and crushed to death, but the two horrific accidents were unrelated.

“I guess everybody gets into an elevator. … Me, I’m claustrophobic,” Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said in announcing criminal charges against the repairman. “I’m always concerned of being trapped between floors, but I never would think of something like this happening.”

Deborah Jordan was at SUNY Downstate Medical Center getting into the elevator to visit a patient with her daughter last Christmas when she stepped onto an elevator that suddenly lurched up. Her leg became trapped outside, in the space between the elevator car and she elevator shaft, and scraped against the floors as the lift rose.

Her daughter is seen on surveillance video reacting in horror as she is dragged up. As she moves up the hospital, doctors gasp and turn and run to try to get help. One woman covers her ears because of Jordan’s screams.

Jordan, 47, went up eight floors, to where a repairman was working and had called up the faulty elevator by wrongly tripping a switch, prosecutors said. Normally, elevators don’t move if a door is open.

Hynes said investigators determined the repairman, who arrived shortly before Jordan was injured, was to blame.

The repairman, Jason Jordan, who’s no relation to the injured woman, should have gone floor to floor to make sure no one was inside the faulty elevator before he tripped the switch on it and should have had someone working with him, prosecutors said.

The repairman was charged Thursday with assault and reckless endangerment and was released without bail. He said outside court it was a terrible accident.

“That accident happened after I left (the hospital),” he said.

The injured woman spent three months in a hospital being treated and is still in a rehabilitation center, prosecutors said.

On Wednesday, Manhattan advertising executive Suzanne Hart was stepping onto an elevator at her Madison Avenue office building when it rose abruptly with its doors still open, pulling her along. She was crushed to death between floors.

It may seem, given the timing of the cases, that such elevator accidents are common, but they’re not. The Department of Buildings said last year there were 53 elevator accidents reported out of more than 60,000 working elevators throughout the city.

Investigators with the buildings department were trying to determine what went wrong. Safety mechanisms are supposed to prevent elevators from moving while their doors are open.

Hynes urged the passage of a bill, led by state Assemblyman Keith Wright, that would amend labor laws to require continuing education and licensing for people who operate elevators to help avoid accidents like the ones that killed Hart and injured Jordan.

“It’s not a particularly common event,” Hynes said, “but that it happens at all, and the juxtaposition between the death of that poor woman just recently and what happened to Miss Jordan, has got to make everyone very, very concerned.”

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

    NEW YORK —Suzanne Hart, a 41-year-old executive at one of Manhattan’s most prominent advertising firms, was stepping into the elevator of an 85-year-old Midtown office building around 10 a.m. Wednesday, just as she had every workday for the past four years, while fellow workers streamed into the mosaic-tiled lobby.

    Then, in an inexplicable instant, after Ms. Hart placed one foot inside, the elevator suddenly lurched up, its door still open, according to the Fire Department. It dragged her until she was pinned between the elevator and the wall, between the first and second floors, the police said.

    Two passengers in the elevator car could only watch in horror, and would remain trapped in the elevator for an hour before rescuers could free them.

    Ms. Hart was declared dead at the scene, but her body was not removed until nearly 7 p.m.

    There are about 60,000 elevators in New York City, which were involved in 53 accidents last year. But just three of them were fatal, making the mechanics and the violence of Ms. Hart’s death all the more unusual.

    The specter of something as mundane as an elevator ride turning deadly haunted the building, at 285 Madison Avenue, and its stricken workers for the rest of the day. The building was evacuated, and employees were told to work from home on Thursday. Friends and family of Ms. Hart reeled in shock, struggling to come to terms with the loss of a woman they uniformly described as generous, driven and warm.

    Ms. Hart was a director of new business and content at Y&R, formerly Young & Rubicam, which represents brands like Campbell Soup, Land Rover and Xerox. She had worked there since June 2007, according to her profile on LinkedIn, and quickly developed a reputation for working long hours while maintaining a spirit that knitted people together.

    “Suzanne was just one of the most wonderful people in the world,” said Chad Kawalec, a former director of client services at Y&R.

    “She was constantly trying to orchestrate teams of people who had never worked together, but she magically got them to work together.”

    Ms. Hart’s father, Alex Hart, called her “the most marvelous daughter imaginable.”

    “No father could have ever been more proud of her,” he said by phone from his home in Florida, weeping as he spoke.

    As of Wednesday night, investigators had not determined what caused the malfunction of the elevator, one of 13 at 285 Madison, a 28-story building at the corner of 40th Street that was built in 1926. Records from the city’s Department of Buildings show there were 14 open violations involving the building’s elevators, two of them dating to last year. But a spokesman for the agency said none of those violations were for hazardous conditions.

    “This particular elevator was last inspected in June 2011, and no safety issues were found at that time, and no conditions were found that would be related to this accident,” the spokesman, Tony Sclafani, said.

    As rare as elevator accidents are, Mr. Kawalec said the elevators at 285 Madison Avenue were old and creaky. “They weren’t the kind of elevators that you stuck your hand in to catch the doors,” he said, “because they wouldn’t stop.”

    This month, Y&R announced plans to move to 3 Columbus Circle, near the Time Warner Center, partly because the Madison Avenue building was a warren of small offices and the agency wanted open spaces. Other tenants in the building, including Kang & Lee, Blast Radius, BrandBuzz and Bravo, planned to move, too.

    David Sable, a Y&R executive, said 285 Madison was “not a suitable building for us and probably hasn’t been for a number of years.”

    Outside the high-pressure world of advertising, Ms. Hart harbored a creative and nurturing side.

    Michael Meseke, who lived across the hall from Ms. Hart at her former residence on Carmine Street in the West Village for about five years, said she filled her home with small paintings she was working on and grew lush plants on the fire escape.

    Mr. Meseke recalled that when his parents visited from California, Ms. Hart would stay at her boyfriend’s apartment so that his parents could use her place.

    Andrea Meyer, who lives on the building’s fourth floor, said she and Ms. Hart frequently joked and commiserated about their mutual desire to shed weight. “She was always trying to lose 10 pounds, like me, and when she did, she was so excited,” Ms. Meyer said.

    A few years ago, Ms. Hart met Chris Dickson, who would become her boyfriend. About a year ago, the couple moved to an apartment in Brooklyn Heights, where friends say Ms. Hart realized one of her dreams — to have her own garden in the city.

    As dusk fell, reporters gathered outside the four-story Brooklyn building where Ms. Hart and Mr. Dickson lived. Appearing briefly on the stoop out front, Mr. Dickson spoke briefly about Ms. Hart.

    “She’s a beautiful person, and I don’t have words for this,” he said. “I loved her.”

    Reporting was contributed by Al Baker, Stuart Elliott, Meredith Hoffman, Ray Rivera and Tim Stelloh.

    NEW YORK —Electrical maintenance work was being performed on an elevator just hours before it malfunctioned, killing an advertising executive in Midtown, a spokesman for New York City’s Buildings Department said Thursday.

    “This work has now become the focus of our investigation,” the spokesman, Tony Sclafani, said.

    Suzanne Hart, 41, was crushed to death on Wednesday morning after the elevator she was stepping into lurched upward, pinning her between the outside of the car and the wall of the elevator shaft.

    Mr. Sclafani said the department would be conducting citywide sweeps of elevators maintained by Transel Elevator Inc., the company that serviced the elevators at 285 Madison Avenue, where the accident occurred.

    The company maintains elevators at nearly a dozen prominent buildings in the city, according to Transel’s Web site, including the Graybar Building, the BMW Building and the Hippodrome Building. Additional clients listed on the Web site include Carnegie Hall and the Plaza Hotel.

    The last fatal elevator accident in the city also involved Transel: Robert Melito, 44, a technician for the company, was servicing an elevator on the 10th floor of a building at 230 West 38th Street on Sept. 23 when he fell to his death.

    Calls to Robert Pitney, a director at Transel, were not immediately returned on Thursday.

    Mr. Sclafani said the sheer force of the accident’s impact raised structural concerns for 285 Madison Avenue, an 85-year-old building that houses the advertising firm Y&R, where Ms. Hart worked as a director of new business and content. The building, which has 13 elevators in all, was closed on Thursday and was set to be closed on Friday, too.

    A barricade was set up across its front entrance on Thursday, and workers put up temporary walls in front of the elevator banks.

    According to records from the Buildings Department, there are 14 open violations against the building’s elevators, two of which date to last year. Those violations were not available on Thursday, though Mr. Sclafani said none were for hazardous conditions.

    Fatal elevator accidents are exceedingly rare. An estimated 900,000 elevators in the United States make 18 billion passenger trips each year, according to the database ConsumerWatch.com, while an average of 27 people are killed in elevator accidents.

    Patrick Carrajat, a former elevator executive and consultant and the founder of an elevator museum in Queens, said the type of accident that killed Ms. Hart was more unusual still. But out of the few similar cases he was aware of, he said, it was usually a result of an oversight. “These cases almost always are a case of human error,” he said.

    Nonetheless, Ms. Hart’s death unloosed jitters among office workers in nearby buildings, many of whom found themselves second-guessing the elevators that ferried them to work, or taking the stairs when they could. Building managers also sent out mass e-mails to offer assurances that their elevators were safe.

    Alexandrea Castellini, 25, a receptionist who works on the 28th floor of the Chrysler Building, said she resolved never again to rush into an elevator because she was late for work. Suzi Brenner, 32, a landscape architect who works on the 39th floor of a building at 40th Street and Madison Avenue, found herself scurrying quickly into the elevator car. “I was thinking, ‘Just get in and get out; don’t linger in the doorway,’ ” she said.

    Shanta Persaud, 31, who works in sales and marketing on the ninth floor of a building at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue, warned her coworkers and her husband to step in and out of elevators quickly, too.

    Chadney Spencer, 35, who works in the same building as Ms. Persaud, said the accident made him acutely aware of how easily the daily routines of city life — crossing the street, riding the subway — could turn deadly.

    “It really makes nothing safe,” he said.

    Ms. Hart’s death came a day before the announcement that an elevator repairman was indicted in Brooklyn for an accident that resulted in the mutilation of a woman last December.

    The International Union of Elevator Constructors has been pushing for the passage of a bill, which was introduced in the State Assembly last summer, that would require licensing for people who work on elevators. Edward Krull, an international organizer for the union, said only three cities in the state — Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse — required an elevator worker to have a license.

    “Anyone with a set of tools can work on an elevator,” he said.

    Nate Schweber contributed reporting.

Elevator Statistics

  • In 2010, New York City had more than 60,000 elevators and 53 elevator accidents (3 were fatal).
  • Previous NYC elevator death: September 23, 2011, a repairman servicing an elevator on a 10th floor fell to his death.
  • An estimated 900,000 elevators in the United States make 18 billion passenger trips each year.
  • An average of 27 people are killed in elevator accidents each year.

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